Jiří Kadlec- the man who created the weapons for Merlin, Joan of Arc and other iconic historic movies

Jiří Kadlec

At sixteen Jiří Kadlec had an avid interest in military history which led him to join a historic fencing club. After the fall of communism he was torn between joining the army and using his extensive knowledge to make copies of historical weapons. Today he co-owns one of the most successful companies for the production, sale and rental of historic weapons and armour. Over the past eighteen years he has created armour and weapons for Joan of Arc, Les Miserables, Bathory, The Three Musketeers, Merlin and other iconic films.

Jiří Kadlec was fascinated by history and battles from an early age. He lapped up whatever information was available and as soon as the opportunity presented itself he took up historic fencing.

“I remember it was in the autumn of 1987 when I joined a historic fencing club. This was shortly before the Velvet Revolution and at the time there was a dearth of historic weapons and accessories. So together with another member of the group we decided to make our own. It wasn’t easy but, by trial and error, we got there. Soon we were making weapons for others in the club and their friends, honing our skills with every next weapon made. In 1993 I had to decide what I wanted to do in life –and in addition to joining the army, which was the original plan, there was suddenly another option –to make historic weapons. Somehow fate pushed me in this direction.”

Historical armor from the workshop of Jiří Kadlec | Photo: Roman Spáčil,  Czech Radio

Today the two fencing enthusiasts own one of the most successful companies for the production, sale and rental of historic weapons and armour. They also create them to order, for example for castles, chateaux, theatres and fencers or collectors.

“We produce a wide range of weapons and armour from Roman times to the end of the Thirty Years War. Mostly we produce cold weapons, firearms are produced only by commission for film productions. We have a historic weapons rental in Prague used by theatre and film companies. Most of our clients are fencers, collectors, film makers and we also get commissions from castles and chateaus made specifically for the given place.”

Kadlec keeps a low profile and is not someone most Czechs would recognize, but among Czech and foreign film productions his name commands respect. In his modest but well equipped workshop in Opatovice nad Labem he has made weapons and armour for Joan of Arc, Les Miserables, Bathory, The Three Musketeers, Merlin and other iconic movies.

“I co-own the firm with Roman Spáčil, a professional fencer from the oldest historic fencing group in the country. We have a strict division of tasks – he is the one in charge of the sales department, deals with clients, movie and theatre companies, he clinches the sales deals and I am the one in charge of production, I am the one who decides how the weapons are going to be made, from what materials, what they will look like and so on. I am happy with that, because as an introvert I prefer to stay in the background.”

Historical armor from the workshop of Jiří Kadlec | Photo: Roman Spáčil,  Czech Radio

Kadlec says that he considers it important for films to be as authentic as possible in portraying a certain period.

"When the film production team calls me to say they need weapons for the battle at Vítkov from 1420 I know instantly what weapons will be required, what would have been used for a given strategy in battle, how they should be used and what is needed to make it authentic. I remember reading a book by some British historian, I don’t recall his name I’m afraid, and he said something I couldn’t agree with more. He said that filmmakers today have a big responsibility to be as authentic as possible in depicting a given period, because so many people have stopped reading books and their perception of history is almost entirely shaped by movies. And I hate to say that sometimes it is very misleading.”

In addition to detailed knowledge about historical warfare in different periods Kadlec needs the manual skills to produce a superior weapon or a convincing fake.

“For film we naturally produce different weapons than those we make for fencers. For mass scenes they are often more like props made of lightweight materials, such as aluminium and bamboo, so that they are easy and safe to handle. On the other hand, historical fencing groups order real, top quality weapons and those are also used in close-ups in films.“

Jiří Kadlec is happy making any kind of historic weapon, but it is the Hussite wars which are his favourite historical period.

“I am really attracted to this period. You may find it funny, but somehow I feel a very strong bond with those times – maybe I was there in some other life. It is a fascinating period. Czech warriors were known throughout Europe in those days and Jan Žižka was a great leader. He fought many battles and never lost. Occasionally, he broke even, but he was never beaten. I think he really embraced Hus’ credo, he truly believed in the cause, and the only way he know how to defend it was on the battlefield.”

Asked whether there is any special commission he would like to get Jiří Kadlec says that anything new is always welcome.

“I really love making a historic weapon for the first time –something I’ve never done before, because I can be creative – I have to figure out how I am going to do it, work on the design and decide on the right materials and technology. Once I have created the first one, I have a “mould” for it so to speak and the next ones are easy because I know how to go about it. But getting the first one right always brings me great pleasure.”

In the eighteen years that he has been producing historic weapons Kadlec has made enough to fill two large halls of the arms rental in Prague and many more that have gone to collectors, fencing clubs and castles. He jokes that he would be able to fully equip an army of at least 300 men at short notice.

Authors: Šárka Rusnáková , Daniela Lazarová
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